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What frame rate should you be filming in?

camera settings cinematic documentaries documentary filmmaking

Whether you decide to film in real-time, slow motion or fast forward, frame rates have a big impact on the overall look and feel of a film.

But, a mistake I see a lot of beginner filmmakers making, is shooting everything in slow-motion because they think it looks cool. And this is something I did myself when I first discovered the slow-motion settings on my camera.

Slow-motion is great for enhancing a moment, but filming your entire documentary in slow-mo just makes the audience feel disconnected from your characters because they’re not experiencing any of the film in real-time which makes it unrelatable. Often the best films use a variety of frame rates, depending on what is happening in the scene.

So when you get to filming your documentary, how do you know what frame rate to shoot in?

To help with this, I have four main categories I like to use to help me decide what frame rate to use.

 

1. Real-time.

This is when you film at 24 or 25 frames per second, depending on what country you’re in. For example in Europe, they use 25 frames per second, and in America, they use 24. 

Filming at this frame rate helps the audience feel like they’re living with the main character of your film and it’s the frame rate that I use the most when shooting a doc. For example, like in this scene which I shot at 25 fps, the audience just feels like they’re there with the subject, seeing her day-to-day life.

Also, anytime a person is speaking or being interviewed, like this. I’ll film at 24 or 25 frames per second.

You can also film real-time at 30 frames per second if you’re wanting your footage to look crisp and smooth, but often this looks less cinematic as it gets rid of a lot of the motion blur that you get when filming at 24 or 25 fps. News channels, sporting events and YouTubers will often film at this frame rate.

 

2. Slow-motion

This can be shot at 50 or 60 frames per second.

Shooting in slow-mo gives more emotional significance to a moment, as the audience has more time to take it in. For example, in this commercial that I made for Tourism New Zealand, I used slow motion when the main characters are looking out at the incredible landscapes to really emphasise the feeling of joy and awe that the main subject is experiencing. 

 

3. Super slow-motion

This can be 100 or 120 frames per second or above. You want to shoot in super slow-mo when filming fast movements like a person jumping, an explosion or moving water. Fast kinetic movement happens so quickly that the audience doesn't have time to take in all the detail, so shooting super slow-mo gives the viewer time to process what’s happening. For example, when I was filming Storror doing Parkour in Turkey for a Canon commercial, I shot a lot of the high-stake moments in super slow-mo, to emphasise the danger of the stunt.

 

4. Timelapse

This can be anything from shooting 1 frame per second to even 1 frame per day, depending on what you’re capturing. Shooting at this frame rate compresses time and it can be really useful to show time passing or to show progress.

Timelapses are used a lot in wildlife documentaries to show nature in motion and reveal a perspective of nature that can’t be seen in real life. 

 

So those are the main frame rates I like to use when filming a documentary.

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